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George Koonce collection

 Collection 0249-MDHC

Seven documents attesting to the loyalty of Harper's Ferry resident George Koonce, who defended the town against the Confederate army in 1861 and lost his business as a result. The collection includes a letter of support from Baltimore merchants and trade documents relating to the movement of goods using the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.


  • 1862-1864

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the special collections reading room staff.


7 Items

2 microfilms

Scope and Content of Collection

The George Koonce collection consists of seven documents dating between 1862 and 1864 concerning Harper's Ferry, Virginia, resident George Koonce, who lost his business and home as a result of his actions defending Harper's Ferry from Virginia Confederate troops. The collection includes a letter of support from Baltimore merchants and trade documents relating to the movement of goods using the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.


George Koonce was born in April 1818 in Ohio to Nicholas and Elizabeth Koonce. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Harper's Ferry, Virginia. He was married twice, first to Emily Piles, and then to Bettie Ellen Brittain. Koonce had at least one son, George William Koonce (b. 1840).

On April 18, 1861, less than a day after Virginia seceded from the Union, Lieutenant Roger Jones was stationed at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, with a company of forty-two regular United States soldiers. Upon learning of the approach of Confederate soldiers, whose intent was to take over the armory, he made preparations for its defense, calling upon the local citizens for volunteer aid. Many responded, including George Koonce, a former town constable according to the 1860 census and Justice of the Peace for Jefferson County, who led the local men against the Virginia army of 2,000 soldiers. Koonce and his fellow citizens halted the larger Virginia army at Smallwood's Ridge, near Bolivar. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Jones, acting on orders received from Washington, set fire to the armory and arsenal and, with his men, retreated northward. Koonce and his fellow volunteers did not return to Harper's Ferry until it had once again fallen into the hands of the U. S. government in 1862.

In June 1861, Koonce represented Jefferson County at the Second Wheeling Convention to vote on the secession of western Virginia. However, Koonce, who harbored ill feelings towards the Confederacy after the events of April 1861 and who was a Unionist, was not representative of the majority of citizens of Jefferson County, most of whom supported the Confederacy.

Koonce lost his home and his business as a result of his involvement in the April 1861 fight. During the Civil War, he operated a general store in Harper's Ferry with a Mr. Horner from 1863 to 1864.

Following the war, Koonce became active in politics once again, serving as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates (1865-1867) and a member of the West Virginia Senate (1870-1871), running on the Radical ticket. He was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

George Koonce died in Halltown, West Virginia, in 1908 at the age of ninety.


The collection is divided into one series:

Series 1
Correspondence and Business Documents

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the collection from Stuart Lutz Historic Documents, New Jersey, in 2004.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of this collection are available at in the University of Maryland's Digital Collections.

Related Material

The Duke University Libraries Special Collections holds the largest collection of Koonce family materials: seven items and eleven ledgers documenting George Koonce's career as tradesman, constable, justice of the peace, and tax collector. This collection is also available on microfilm in the Archives and Manuscripts Department at the University of Maryland Libraries. Nineteenth century tax books and a copy of Koonce's membership card for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows are located at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.


  • Bushong, Millard Kessler. A History of Jefferson County West Virginia. Charles Town, WV, Jefferson Publishing Company, 1941.
  • Atkinson, George W. and Alvaro F. Gibbens. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling, WV, Callin, 1890.

Processing Information

The documents were placed in acid-free folders and placed in an acid-free box.

Guide to the George Koonce Collection
Processed by Jennie Anne Levine.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742